Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Eiji Aonuma on the fate of Wind Waker 2

Link sailing in GameCube version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

When the HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was announced, it instantly became one of the most wanted games for the Wii U. When it was originally released, however, it was very controversial, and many gamers did not like the cartoon look at all. While it went on to sell 4.6 million copies, Nintendo was disappointed with sales. Nevertheless, the company began working on another entry in the series with the working title The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 2. The plan was to develop the game using the same cel-shaded graphics as the previous title, much like they had done when they created Majora's Mask using assets from Ocarina of Time. The project stalled, though, after director Eiji Aonuma asked Nintendo of America about the reason for sluggish North American sales of the first Wind Waker.

At the Game Developers Conference in 2007, Aonuma gave a lengthy presentation about his work on the Zelda series, and Wind Waker 2 was a subject that he covered. A transcript of the speech was produced, but it appears that it went largely unnoticed by the media. Here's an excerpt in which he relates the concerns he had about the sequel:

As some of you know, at E3 2004, we unveiled the game that would become Twilight Princess, the realistic Zelda game, and we announced that it was developed by the team that had been developing Wind Waker 2. Actually, there was a reason that that decision was made at the time. At one point, I had heard that even Wind Waker, which had reached the million mark in sales, had become sluggish in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan. I asked NOA why this was. What I was told was that the toon-shading technique was, in fact, giving the impression that this Zelda was for a younger audience and that, for this reason, it alienated the upper teen audience that had represented the typical Zelda player. Having heard that, I began to worry about whether Wind Waker 2, which used a similar presentation, was something that would actually sell.

Screenshot of Zelda tech demo running on GameCube at Space World 2000
If Nintendo hadn't shown this tech demo, Wind Waker might have enjoyed a better reception.

A lot of gamers who liked the cartoon look resent the fact that Twilight Princess was done in a realistic style, and there are allegations that Nintendo was trying to "cater to Americans" when they went with a more lifelike and darker presentation. However, many seem to have forgotten that The Wind Waker didn't do so well in Japan either. In fact, it sounds like the reception it received in Nintendo's homeland was actually worse.

It had become clear that the Japanese market was moving away from games, in what we have come to call “gamer drift."

We completed work on the Japanese version of Wind Waker at the end of 2002, and at E3 2003, we announced that the North American version, which was released at the beginning of the same year, had sold up to a million copies. But the truth of the matter was that the game did not fare as well in Japan. I won’t go into exact numbers, but it was enough to show us the difference in the degree of enthusiasm between the Japanese and North American markets.

Aonuma explained that the development team could not come up with any sort of "innovative" gameplay that would appeal to the Japanese market, and he came to the conclusion that "the only thing" they could do was give Americans what they wanted.

In addition, because we knew how difficult it would be to create an innovative way of playing using existing GameCube hardware, we knew what a challenge it would be to develop something that would do well in the Japanese market, where gamer drift was happening.

That’s when I decided that if we didn’t have an effective and immediate solution, the only thing we could do was to give the healthy North American market the Zelda that they wanted. So, at the end of 2003, I went to Miyamoto and said, “I want to make a realistic Zelda."

Were the cel-shaded visuals the real reason for disappointing sales? Aonuma believes so.

Miyamoto questioned Aonuma's theory that the cartoon-style graphics were the reason for Wind Waker's unexpectedly low sales, but the legendary game designer said that if Aonuma really wanted to do a realistic Zelda, he should try to do what wasn't possible in Ocarina of Time, referring to the failed attempt to incorporate horseback combat into the N64 blockbuster. The entire staff thought it was a great idea, giving the project a "much-needed jumpstart."

Twilight Princess was modeled after Ocarina of Time, but with a darker tone.

As we all know, their efforts resulted in the creation of Twilight Princess which was released on the GameCube and Wii in 2006. Combined sales for both platforms stand at approximately 7.14 million, making it the second best-selling Zelda game ever, coming in behind Ocarina of Time which sold just over 7.6 million copies on the N64 alone. As for the role graphics had to do with the title's success, we can only guess.

This game runs on the Wind Waker engine. The GameCube version has very similar controls to Toon Link's adventure.

The exact fate of Wind Waker 2 is still somewhat of a mystery. Aonuma did not say how far into the development cycle the game was when he decided to go with a realistic look, and it's not clear if the project was scrapped entirely or simply reworked to fit the new graphics. Aonuma said that it was "reborn as Twilight Princess," but he did not elaborate on what he meant.

During E3 2004, shortly after the official unveiling of Twilight Princess, Miyamoto and Aonuma fielded questions from the press about the new game. Miyamoto made a few remarks about the way the project unfolded, and he said that Aonuma "wasn't lying" when he said he was working on Wind Waker 2. Here is what he had to say:

But since then [following the release of Wind Waker], we've been left with a very big question: and that was, what are we going to do when we decide to make Link a teenager again -- a 16-year-old Link. So after Wind Waker we tried several different models and made varied versions of them. Ultimately we decided that in showing a teenage Link really the best style of expressing him would be something that's closer to our graphical style in Ocarina of Time. So Mr. Aonuma actually wasn't lying at the Game Developer's Conference when he said we were working on Wind Waker 2. He just didn't tell the whole story. And fortunately because he didn't tell the whole story, we were able to surprise you all here with a big announcement about the series.

Phantom Hourglass: A glimpse at Aonuma's vision for Wind Waker 2?

In his presentation, Aonuma said he really wanted to work with Toon Link again.

Of course, The Wind Waker did receive a direct sequel in the form of Phantom Hourglass, which takes place immediately after the events of Toon Link's first adventure and features the same art-style. As a result, some gamers refer to it as Wind Waker 2 from time to time. However, Aonuma revealed that the stylus-controlled entry in the series was developed by the same team who put together Four Swords Adventures, a completely different group of people from the ones who had been working on Wind Waker 2 for the GameCube. Obviously the two projects can't be one and the same for a variety of reasons (different hardware, different staff, etc.), but it is possible that some of the ideas intended for the second GCN title were adapted to fit the DS adventure. And it is entirely possible that the storyline in Phantom Hourglass reflects what Aonuma had in mind for Wind Waker 2. Of course, this is all conjecture, and we simply don't know.

Seeing as how it takes place on the seas, the storyline could reflect what Aonuma had in mind for Wind Waker 2.

As is often the case with Zelda games, there are more questions than answers. Perhaps one day Aonuma will shed more light on the subject.

The Acceptance of Toon Link

Screenshot of Link and Tetra in the The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

When The Wind Waker was first revealed, "Toon Link" was not well-received, and Nintendo undoubtedly lost more than a few fans who felt betrayed after seeing the realistic Zelda GameCube demo that was shown at Space World 2000. However, when one positive review after another came out of media outlets around the world, more and more gamers rethought their feelings and warmed up to the cel-shaded look as time went by. The cartoonish graphics have been heralded as a perfect fit for the DS, and Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were both critically and commercially successful (although the Link featured in the latter title is not the same Link in the previous two games).

With the impending release of Wind Waker HD, Toon Link appears set to make a comeback. And judging from the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the announcement, it seems safe to say that he is no longer the black sheep he was ten years ago.


You can read Aonuma's speech in its entirety via the source link below (and I highly recommend you do).

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Reflections in the Hourglass - Nintendo World Report

For even more reading, you can check out the E3 2004 Q&A Session featuring Miyamoto and Aonuma via this link:

E3 2004, Miyamoto and Aonuma on Zelda - IGN

*Images from, used under GNU Free Documentation License

Bookmark our site and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest news and videos.


  1. This might be super late, but I for one would LOVE a "true" sequel to WW. It is my favorite Zelda game thus far and while the DS "Sequels" (I call them spin-offs) were very well done, they do not bring the same emotions that the original encapsulates.

    There are limitless opportunities for them to expand on with the ship-sailing and all the items/tools, there has been so much more lore added to the series in the past decade, and the HD re-release has provided more than enough newcomers to justify a true sequel.

    The only thing I DON'T want is an incredible amount of change (as in Skyward Sword). It's a good game, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't feel like Zelda to me.

    My rankings of the franchise (only the ones that I've played):

    1. Wind Waker
    2. Ocarina of Time
    3. Twilight Princess
    4. Majora's Mask
    5. Link to the Past
    6. Phantom Hourglass
    7. Skyward Sword

    The newest game, Link Between Worlds, comes out on the 22nd of this month and I am super stoked!

  2. If Nintendo had any sense they would have realized that the game sold bad mainly because not many people had a GameCube when WW released.... Or by the end of its life for that matter.

    Sadly, it was all about the PS2 at the time for most everyone....

    The color and look of the console at launch didn't help it either. Looked like a little girls makeup case.... Most of their fans were 18+ years old at the time.


Please be courteous to other readers, and don't use any harsh language. Disrespectful comments will be deleted. Anonymous comments may be flagged as spam.